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Q&A: Disability Sensitivity and the ADA Complaint Process

Did you miss NADTC’s April 12 Disability Sensitivity and the Americans with Disabilities Act Complaint Process webinar? Here you’ll find a recap of the key questions & answers that came out of the webinar. If you’d like to read more answers, particularly those related to service animals, download a copy of the transcript or view the webinar at our YouTube channel.

Still looking for an answer to a question not covered here? Contact Ken Thompson, NADTC Technical Assistance Specialist, at or call our toll-free helpline at 866.983.3222 and select option 3.

The following is an excerpt of the Q&A between Carol Wright Kenderdine and Ken Thompson on April 12, 2018 and is for informational purposes. Visit the Federal Transit Administration ADA website for official requirements, circulars, and guidance.


Complaint Process Procedures and Recordkeeping

Q. Regarding ADA regulations and the records for complaints—is that specific to a certain size agency or type or is that all public transportation or all agencies?

A. All agencies, so, yes, it’s not a size. If you are providing service, then you got to have a complaint process in place because you got to remember, the ADA is, in essence, a complaint-driven regulation. There is no other way of tracking things because you are tracking individual instances or—incidents or issues for the most part—and looking at those as far as ADA violations because an ADA violation is something that happens to a person.

Q. Regarding the ADA and the complaint process, is it just about discrimination complaints or all types of complaints?

A. It’s really ADA discrimination, but I would say all kinds of complaints, because you want to know what’s going on. A complaint is a complaint. And even if it’s not an ADA complaint, it could have some bearing on your ADA service. You need to be tracking those complaints because they could come back and when someone investigates, they would find it to be an ADA compliance issue.

Q. Do these types of complaints need to be logged?

A. Yes, absolutely. You want to track all your complaints and all your comments. So you want to log that information in because that’s going to show you if you have any kind of pattern, or like they say in the ADA, pattern of practice for an agency. If you get certain things that happen over and over again, they are recurring. You want to figure out why, number one. You want to find out if it’s isolated to a certain route, to a certain driver, certain time of day. If you don’t track them, you would never know.

Q. Can you elaborate on the required information for tracking your complaint and how long you have to retain it?

A. The tracking sheets, the information you want to keep, and it could be spreadsheets, it could be electronic, but some way you could print out all your complaints, have them handled and the resolutions. It could be just one line, but you could look at and see what kind of complaints there are. So, you look at vehicles, date, time, issue, and resolution. Resolution is key, and then it’s really important, we like to see people just note how it was communicated to the individual making the point.

Q. You mentioned that the complaint process should be publicized. Where and how often?

A. Being publicized meaning that people know where it is, and it’s not just putting it on your website, though that’s the place where most people go. So you want to have it at least on your website all of the time, and make it easy to find. I looked at some websites when I was writing about complaint process, and it was hard to find the complaint process. I had to go down five levels to find it, but it should be something that’s pretty up front and open. There are some transit systems now on every page on the side bar it says have a complaint, you click on that, and then you have the complaint process. But we also like to say go out and let people know what the complaint process is. Put up posters if you have transit centers or even at some bus stops have a complaint, put that information up.

Service Animals

Q. One of our passengers asked about her comfort animal—her emotional support dog in this case—and this is an emotional support pet not a service animal. The driver wants the animal to sit on the floor. And she prefers that the animal has a place on the seat next to her where he can be safely strapped in. How should the system handle that, and what are some of the rules around those kinds of things or suggested best practices?

A. Transit agencies can develop a local policy regarding this. You don’t have to have a policy that says or even modify your policy that says that we have a seat for the dog because there is no requirement for a dog to sit in a seat. Keep in mind that the seat is for the paying customer, and they should be open and available for the customer. Service animals in general are trained to sit on the floor, and that’s where dogs usually go. Again, another issue sometimes with some people is that if you put the dog in the seat, some people are more sensitive to dog dander that there is a dog sitting in the seat. So you want to think about other people that may have a disability related to sensitivity of pets and animals. A dog being in the seat could make that sensitivity worse.

Q. You want to go over the rule, what questions someone can ask about whether it’s a service animal.

A. You have two questions, “Is this animal a service animal?” and “Is the animal trained to do specific tasks to assist the person with the disability?”

On the Vehicle

Q. How much of an obligation does a transit system have to make sure that the signage that they have on vehicles is of an appropriate size font so that people are able to see it?

A. That’s actually been talked about in compliance reviews at transit agencies where basically they say that the font is of size that people can see it from across the bus, but it’s also contrasting, and they don’t give exactly particular definition of what works because it depends on your color scheme. What they don’t like to see is when there are stickers on the window that are like white on clear glass where people might put complaint information or even the mandatory seating sticker on the window. People can’t see it. Transit agencies are told put that somewhere else, not on the window. Put it somewhere where it can be seen.

Q. Do you want to address that a little bit in terms of what are some of the things that you have found that people try to do and that is a real legitimate complaint when it comes to inoperable lifts?

A. What people do when they have an inoperable lift is, you know, there is no information given to that individual when the next bus will show up. And it should be the next bus shows up in a reasonable time, but if the bus isn’t going to show up for more than a half hour, the transit agency is required to provide some kind of vehicle to pick that person up and, the real issue a lot of times is the driver can’t just say oh, the lift doesn’t work, you know, the next bus is coming. The driver typically will say the next bus is ten minutes behind. The key point would be that drivers should call into dispatch and find out what the actual time is for the next bus to inform that individual.

This is just a sample of the questions discussed during the ADA webinar. Read recommendations for ADA-sensitive customer service and learn more  about service animals, the complaint process, and agency recordkeeping by visiting the April 12 webinar resource page.

Photo: Cowlitz Indian Tribe





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